Welcome to Area X. Ecologically pristine. Cut off from civilization. Hostile to humans. What lurks there? Does it have a name? Will you live to tell a...more Welcome to Area X. Ecologically pristine. Cut off from civilization. Hostile to humans. What lurks there? Does it have a name? Will you live to tell about what you've seen? Who will believe you?
If one can be said to "do" weird, then I don't think I do it very well. Annihilation -- the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy -- is Weird with a capital 'W' with its roots in H.P. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood. It has a post-modern mindfuck vibe as well reminiscent of House of Leaves.
That is to say, there were parts of this book that worked really well for me (especially the first half). I felt the epic creep and that twisting, squirming sense of dread of what I couldn't see, of what was lurking right in the corner of my eye. But as with most Weird fiction I've tried, there was a lot of "huh?" and a growing sense of impatience that acts like a maddening itch I can't scratch.
Ever sit on a sneeze that just won't happen for more than 15 minutes? Yeah, kinda like that. Or put another way, lots of really great, thoughtful foreplay that does not deliver on that big finish (I'm a fan of the big finish. The journey is nice and all but I need to know there is a final destination and that there will be fireworks when I get there, that this all means something. I hate ambiguity. It is not my friend).
This book is also well-written. If you are a fan of the word-smithing and an author who is in complete control of creating mood and atmosphere then this is something you might want to check out. There are scenes that practically pulse with claustrophobia and paranoia. The dread is definitely present and some of the reveals are quite shocking and satisfying. I just needed more. What should have been leading towards a crashing climax and a crescendo of realizations simply just....peters out with a whimper, instead of delivering on the bang. Did I mention how much I love the bang?
For you Weird aficionados out there and fans of the unreliable narrator (I'm primarily looking at you mark monday) you might want to give this a second look. (less)
If the plethora of J-horror coming out of Japan the last 15 years hasn't convinced you of the country's own unique brand of crazy pants in the best, m...more If the plethora of J-horror coming out of Japan the last 15 years hasn't convinced you of the country's own unique brand of crazy pants in the best, most entertaining way, then this book will. And there's a movie! Which I now have to hunt down.
Because crazy pants, did I mention? So much crazy pants.
This isn't horror, but it is really messed up. It's a revenge tale about screwed up, damaged narrators who each get to tell a piece of the story, so you won't have all the pieces of the puzzle until the very end.
No one is likable. If you are a reader who wants an emotional story and characters that you can relate to, then skip this one.
But if you're like me, and you like the crazy pants, then definitely check this one out.
Is it wrong to be totally fangirling over such depraved and bloody storytelling? Probably. But fuck it. I'm not going to apologize. PREACHER is like n...more Is it wrong to be totally fangirling over such depraved and bloody storytelling? Probably. But fuck it. I'm not going to apologize. PREACHER is like nothing else I've ever read or seen, crossing boundaries of decency and good taste while at the same time offering up compelling characters and kickass world building.
This volume brings together two very different storylines each with its own sense of brutality and redemption. The first half is the revelation of Jesse Custer's twisted and blood soaked past, a family tree steeped in abomination and cruelty, abuse and murder. It's anything but pretty, as heartbreaking as it is frightening and sickening. Having met evil incarnate Grandma L'Angelle and her trusty sadistic sidekicks Jody and T.C. I can say with all honesty I'd rather take my chances dining with Hannibal Lecter or spending the weekend with Leatherface.
The 'Angelville' subplot has a distinctive backwoods, Southern Gothic meets Deliverance vibe that reminded me a lot of today's redneck noir or hillbilly lit. It's gritty realism shot through with supernatural elements that play as straight and normal. None of those elements, including appearances by God and The Duke himself feel out of place or ridiculous. They're seamlessly woven into the story's patchwork without any self-consciousness whatsoever. They belong there, just like the Genesis entity riding Custer's ass imbuing him with the power to bend minds to his will and words.
Custer's ex, Tulip has a much more defining role in this volume. Actually, she's pretty awesome; I just hope she turns out to be more than just Jesse's snuggle bunny. The vampire Cass also returns in all his drunken Irish glory injecting much needed comic relief. The scene with the cat and the toilet made me howl. Bad kitty!
The second half of this volume is quite the departure from the first, introducing a whole new cast of characters including a super secret religious group known as the Grail (think Da Vinci Code) and a pasty white, rich lunatic who could pass for Caligula calling himself Jesus De Sade. If the first half is rural The Walton's meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the second half is all urban decay and hedonism. It's the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah in 20th century America and Jesse Custer is all tangled up in the thick of it, whether he wants to be or not.
And oh yeah, he's still got that bone to pick with God, now more than ever.
Do I want more PREACHER? You're goddam right I do.
After reading Kemper's awesome review I knew I'd be getting to Preacher eventually -- now after having read the first volume I'm left wondering why th...more After reading Kemper's awesome review I knew I'd be getting to Preacher eventually -- now after having read the first volume I'm left wondering why the hell did I wait so long?!
It's bloody, gory grit and gasoline pulp Texas style, with demons and angels and a possessed preacher, an Irish vampire and a supernatural gunslinger known as the Saint of Killers -- who reminded me instantly of Roland Deschain crossed with Randall Flagg.
Something has gone very wrong in heaven: a terrifyingly powerful entity (the offspring of an angel and a demon known as Genesis) has escaped to earth and binds itself to a mortal man -- Jesse Custer (redneck preacher of a small Texas parish). Jesse needs answers fast as the dead bodies start to pile up around him and the po-po are hot on his tail. Joining him on his quest (and evasion of the law) will be his ex-girlfriend Tulip, and a ninety-something year old Irish vampire called Cassidy.
There's a vicious serial killer on the loose too just to keep things from, you know, getting boring.
The word from up on high is that God has left the building. Literally. Fucked off and left humans to fend for themselves. That's not going to stand for Jesse, and he's decided it's time to smoke God out of his hiding hole and get some answers. Maybe even a little payback, who knows? I surely don't, but I can't wait to find out.
Yeah so make no mistake: this thing is profane. It's violent. But there's an energy and an aliveness running through the story that's absolutely addictive. I can see why this series has stood the test of time (and will continue to do so I'm sure).
But don't take my word for it: in his introduction to the series Joe R. Lansdale calls Preacher "scary as a psychopathic greased gerbil with a miner's hat and a flashlight and your bare asshole in sight." Heh heh. An effective metaphor to make any butt clench up I'm sure. But this is what really got me:
Because there is only one PREACHER, a tale out of Ireland, dragged through Texas with a bloody hard-on, wrapped in barbed wire and rose thorns.
If that doesn't make you want to pick this series up then check your pulse, because you just might be dead.
I'm shouting his name from the rooftops, are you paying attention? This gentleman has got some serious skill people...more Alan Ryker! Alan Ryker! Alan Ryker!
I'm shouting his name from the rooftops, are you paying attention? This gentleman has got some serious skill people, writing chops to make you quiver and shake.
Dream of the Serpent is only my second Ryker book (the first being The Hoard) but with it he has clinched a spot on my author to watch radar. Color me a smitten kitten.
Burning is the sort of thing that changes you forever. It makes you realize that you're an animal, that all the rest is pretense.
The prose and pacing is exquisitely rendered here reflecting a maturity and mastery of the craft that is a pleasure to read even when what you are reading is fraught with pain and despair. When I picked up this book I was wholly unprepared to read such a graphic, explicit depiction of a young man's savage burns and the life he must confront post-fire. It is tragedy at its most gripping and devastating, so poignant and raw and in your face. It's impossible not to become positively engrossed in Cody's story and his ultimate fate.
This is not a "horror" story per se, but there is plenty here that is shocking and horrific. It is in its way a love story as well, or at least just what and how much we are willing to sacrifice for those we love. Amongst the punishing bleak detail of excruciating hopelessness, there emerges a twisty, mindfuck tale of second chances that's mysterious and oh so satisfyingly constructed in its parts.
Bravo Mr. Ryker. Bravo.
A free copy was provided by the publisher through Netgalley for an honest review.(less)
Even though this is my first Tony Burgess read, I'm not exactly a Burgess virgin. He's a bit of a cult figure in Canada, thanks largely in part to the...more Even though this is my first Tony Burgess read, I'm not exactly a Burgess virgin. He's a bit of a cult figure in Canada, thanks largely in part to the iconic zombie flick Pontypool, based on his novel Pontypool Changes Everything. Confession time: I've seen the movie (it's brilliant), but I never got around to reading Burgess's book. Or anything else by him either. Until now.
Sweet Jebus. I was dimly aware of his reputation as a gore master, a mad splatter genius who frequently pushes boundaries of decency and sanity every chance he gets. It's a reputation well-deserved. Reminiscent of another iconic Canadian's early work -- David Cronenberg -- Burgess delves into body horror in such a way to disarm the reader and distress the shit out of you.
It's not a mere gross out that's easily dismissed as senseless pulp either, but an exercise in relentless brutality that leaves you mentally and emotionally floundering. In a lot of ways, reading The n-Body Problem reminded me of Kafka's The Metamorphosis because I was left feeling similarly shuddering and sad. (view spoiler)[The narrator's fate as an armless, legless torso mummy wrapped and encased in glass is a metamorphosis that leads to much the same kind of alienation and dehumanization experienced by Gregor Samsa. Except the ultimate fate of the narrator here is so much worse, if such horrors can indeed be quantified. (hide spoiler)]
This isn't a book I would easily recommend. It's Grade A disturbing, and very much not nice. I repeat: This is not a nice book. It doesn't want to hold your hand, or stroke your hair. Or make you laugh and feel better about life's absurdities. It wants to show you something very dark and nasty, about humans, about death, about our fear of death and extinction. Approach with caution -- and a very strong stomach. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Deciding to tell a story about a physically disfigured child who lusts after his biological mother while living out their lives in the long, judgmenta...more Deciding to tell a story about a physically disfigured child who lusts after his biological mother while living out their lives in the long, judgmental, crucifying shadow of the Catholic Church in 1950's St. John's Newfoundland ... is ... curious at best. But also weird and ... questionable.
I'm not sure what kind of a book Johnston thought he was writing. At first it seems humorous and whimsical, a slice of Frank McCourt meets a heaping portion of John Irving. There's poverty, a dysfunctional family, religion, sexual awakening, and some odd occurrences that make you laugh just for their very oddness and inappropriateness.
But as the book progresses, the oddities start to fall flat onto the very shoulders of uninteresting and boring. If Son of a Certain Woman is meant to be Johnston's indictment of the corrupt and nasty hold the Catholic Church at one time held over the historic and capital city of St. John's it really doesn't succeed, neither as a parable, or tongue-in-cheek satire (if that's what you're looking for, get Codco on DVD).
Where it really fails is as a meaningful and emotional coming-of-age story. I didn't fall in love with anybody and did not feel as if there were any stakes worth cheering for. (view spoiler)[Despite Percy's precociousness and precarious place in the world, I could not open my mind wide enough to hope that his gob-smackingly, sensual mother finally lays him. (hide spoiler)]
My disappointment here is heartfelt. I love Johnston's writing and his unerring ability to capture the layered realities and eccentricities of my home and my people. I did enjoy some of his descriptions of the 1950's streets of St. John's, but sometimes, in an effort to paint that portrait, the brush strokes felt a little heavy-handed and clumsy, like a travel book or described video.
While it pains me to do it, I am recommending a pass on this one.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This little Faustian ditty is a hoot and a half, let me tell you and should you think my three stars indicates a less than enthusi...moreOCTOBER COUNTRY 2013
This little Faustian ditty is a hoot and a half, let me tell you and should you think my three stars indicates a less than enthusiastic recommendation, think again. I adore Frank Darabont because he is one of the few film directors out there who truly "gets" Stephen King's work (as an artist and as a fan). The proof is in Darabont's King adaptations onto the big screen with stunning cinematic results, including The Green Mile and my personal favourite -- The Shawshank Redemption.
There is a persistent rumor that Darabont is sitting on the film rights to King's Bachman novel The Long Walk, another favorite of mine which I like to re-read every couple of years. Just the thought of Darabont bringing this classic edge-of-your-seat dystopian nightmare to the big screen is enough to send me into a raving fangirl tizzy. So c'mon Darabont, get on that please before the zombies rise up and we're all more concerned with hoarding toilet paper.
But back to Walpuski's Typewriter. Darabont is a talented director, and an equally passionate screenwriter. He knows how to construct a story and give life to characters, but mostly in the visual sense. He is a man who thinks and experiences the world cinematically. Which is why you see his name on movie marquees, not on the New York Times bestsellers list.
But this fantastical tale laced with dark humor and outrageous outcomes showcases Darabont's admiration and respect for the craft of storytelling, in particular for the works of Stephen King and Anthony Boucher. In Walpuski's Typewriter Darabont is paying homage to these men, a short story that proves imitation is the highest form of flattery. King fans will chuckle. There's something here that feels so familiar and honest, in an adorable, tongue-in-cheek way. It's Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt, a delightfully gruesome story ripped from the pages of the 1950's EC horror comics.
It's appropriate I should be reviewing this on November 1st, as thousands of people all over the world sign up to participate in NaNoWriMo. The overwhelming urge to write a novel can make hungering desperadoes out of the most calm and sensible people. As all you NaNo participants venture forth this month to slay your literary dragon, ask yourself how far you would go to succeed in this madcap adventure, to bask in the glory of your triumph and drink from the sweet well of fame and notoriety?
My advice -- stick to pen and paper, and whatever you do, don't resurrect that old typewriter from your uncle's basement or grandma's attic. (less)
Patrick Ness is a magnificent storyteller and master wordsmith in possession of a vibrant imagination. His Chaos Walking trilogy is tremendously uniqu...more Patrick Ness is a magnificent storyteller and master wordsmith in possession of a vibrant imagination. His Chaos Walking trilogy is tremendously unique and exciting, and his A Monster Calls brought me to my knees with its merciless emotional elegance and purity of Truth.
More Than This shows glimpses of greatness, but never quite reaches that level of soul-satisfying, heart-stopping, mind-melting resolution for me. It's an existential tale of seeking -- the search for meaning, for Truth, for understanding and forgiveness and discovery of self -- where redemption and final destination are displaced for the all important journey. This is a story without a climax, a story which poses many questions and offers no definitive answers.
The characters are great. I loved them. Especially Tomasz. I want an entire book just of that kid. Seth's back story and his relationship with Gudmund (while taking up very few pages of the novel) burns bright, so vivid, so emotional. I quickly became astonishingly invested in their story after only a few scenes, in what they meant to each other and how they expressed their thoughts and feelings. So tenderly realized. There were times I did not want to return to the "other story" going on, I so wanted to stay with these two and find out everything about them -- everything that came before and everything to come after.
Patrick Ness, you need to write a love story. I believe you have it in you to break all of our hearts.
But this is not that book. This is something else. It defies categorization, and sometimes that's a wonderful, brilliant thing. Here, I'm left feeling a little let down and yearning for more. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I'm going to tell you two things that made me want to read this book:
1) The cover - I mean, c'mon...how kick-ass creepy is this?
2) The first sentence...more I'm going to tell you two things that made me want to read this book:
1) The cover - I mean, c'mon...how kick-ass creepy is this?
2) The first sentence of the book jacket description: "A seven-year-old girl puts a nail gun to her grandmother's neck and fires."
Creepy, evil kids doing creepy evil things is usually a win for me. So it was a foregone conclusion that I would dive into this book with abandon.
First of all -- it isn't horror, despite the cover and the book jacket description. It's more a mash-up of mystery sci-fi with a philosophical bent to it. There are creepy parts, but those are almost incidental to the book's defined purpose. And what is that purpose?
The writing is great. Liz Jensen knows what to do with words. Hesketh Lock is a remarkable character study of a person living with Asperger's Syndrome. I'm no expert by any means (and maybe it's a terribly erroneous portrait), nevertheless I appreciated the attention to detail. I found Hesketh's way of looking at the world and interacting with it endlessly fascinating.
The book opens with Hesketh being sent to different countries on various continents to investigate cases of industrial sabotage. It's not entirely clear how these financially devastating actions by valued employees are even related to the other disturbing cases occurring at the same time of children murdering their caregivers. Hence the mystery. But Hesketh is on the case and with his very unusual brain and the aid of Venn diagrams moves closer to the truth with each passing day.
Even up to the three-quarter mark I was still chomping at the bit to uncover what the hell was really going on. I needed to know. Things were going from bad to worse. What could be behind it all? Demons? Aliens? Time-traveling scientists? So many cryptic clues, hinting at something universally "big" in a space-time-evolutionary way.
I was ready for it. I believed in the author. It felt like she had a plan. I trusted her. Even with a mere 10 pages left and no definitive climax or resolution in sight, I was only slightly worried and concerned.
Ever watch an overwrought, existential and confused piece of French cinema replete with embedded themes and imagery and allegory that you were supposed to "get" but didn't, and then the end title comes up and looks like this:
And then you shout at the screen and shake your fist: What the bleep?! You fume and even cry real tears. Because you realize no one's going to tell you the answer. Oh no. You will have to guess, extrapolate, surmise and theorize, with your friends, or worse still, with the obnoxious douche you have to work with every day.
Well piss on that. If that's what I wanted to spend my time doing I would have gotten my PhD in goddam philosophy. I can tolerate some ambiguity, but by and large I don't like it. It aggravates me. I'm reading for answers and resolution, not for more questions and uncertainty. Ambiguity stinks. Ambiguity is not my friend. Which is also probably why David Lynch movies make me want to stab somebody, him mostly.
So for a horror novel, that turned out to be a mysterious sci-fi piece that turned out to be an exercise in pointless philosophy showcasing an excruciatingly ambiguous ending -- two stars. (less)
Bottom line, this book has *a lot* to recommend it: it is a dark, dream-like, post-apocalyptic landscape with sharp turns and compelling plot twists....more Bottom line, this book has *a lot* to recommend it: it is a dark, dream-like, post-apocalyptic landscape with sharp turns and compelling plot twists. I experienced a few moments of genuine shock (remarkable for a jaded reader like myself) and not once did I ever want to stop reading. I just had to know how it was all going to come out. The only way to really know if this book is for you is to go on this journey with Zoe, our narrator, and see for yourself.
This is one of those books that when I finished it, I sat for a moment and didn't know quite what to do with myself, pondering "what the hell did I just read?"
Zoe is a difficult narrator to get to know. She speaks and thinks in metaphors and similes (more on that later). Part of her story is constructed of remembrances of things past -- the THEN -- the other half is told in urgent tones of events unfolding in the moment -- the NOW. While Zoe's story is sympathetic, it took me a long while to warm up to her, even when the only religion she has in this dead and deformed new world is to hold on to the last remnants of her humanity. This means rushing in to "do the right thing" even when the choice to do so is stupid, dangerous or even meaningless.
But her compulsion brings some interesting people into her fractured life, and some monsters as well.
About those metaphors and similes? This is probably what irritated me the most about the book, for if a strong-willed editor had cut half of the flowery phrases from the myriad of thousands to choose from I could see myself giving the novel four stars no problem. Unfortunately, all of the "like a" and "as a" sentences often took me right out of the story, standing out like heavy oak coffee tables that you stub your toe on in the middle of the night (see what I did there?)
Not all of the language in this book makes you want to howl and curse in pain. Some of it is quite beautiful, poetic, startling even. It creates a pall over the story, a tension and a mystery. Zoe's dreamlike narration made me feel like I was moving through heavy water. When the jolts come (and they do, trust me), they really bite you because you've been lulled into a state of complacency.
I did warm up to Zoe eventually, and I keened for a happy ending. White Horse is the first book of a planned trilogy, but the good news is, it ably stands as a complete and satisfying story for those readers wary of committing to yet another series. (less)
Holy shit snacks, people. This book is intense!!! I need a moment to compose myself. But there will be a review.
I was already familiar with Frank Bil...moreHoly shit snacks, people. This book is intense!!! I need a moment to compose myself. But there will be a review.
I was already familiar with Frank Bill's writing after surviving a close encounter with his debut -- the short story collection Crimes In Southern Indiana. Upon finishing those stories, my only thought was: "Jesus Christ, this man is a lunatic" -- and then immediately, "I want more!" For sure the stories are raw and unpolished, and perhaps a little too overeager to tell rather than show, but there is also an urgency, a ferocity to the writing that refuses to be ignored. It's so in your face that at times it feels like an assault. I loved it!
So you can bet when I heard this guy was about to publish his first novel I became very afraid, and very, very obsessed with getting my hands on it to read it.
Usually my eyes tend to glaze over and ignore most book blurbs because they always seem so generic and at their worst, sycophantic. But at their best, book blurbs can capture in a few short phrases the very tail of the beast itself and show you its face. As much as I loathe the majority, there are some that do their job so well, they deserve to be recognized along with the book they're blurbing. I only say this now to emphasize that Bill has attracted the attention of authors I love and respect and if you're not going to listen to me when I say this guy's the real deal, then maybe you'll listen to them:
Donnybrook is vivid in its violence, grim in its grimness. It reams the English language with a broken beer bottle and lets the blood drops tell the story. -- Daniel Woodrell, (Winter's Bone)
With action like a belt across the face and vivid prose like a stroke up the neck, Frank Bill's astonishing novel...renders you punch-drunk. Here's the writer to watch: mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Megan Abbott, (Dare Me)
I also like this one by Bonnie Jo Campbell: "Don't poke this book with a stick or you'll make it angry." And trust me -- you won't like this book when it's angry. Goodreads friend Jacob writes in his review:
something this good should be illegal, because the act of hunting down a banned copy and hiding from the censors and morality police to read it is the only goddamn way it could get any better. Donnybrook is a relentless, no-holds-barred, total fucking mind-fuck of endless violence...
Yeah, like that. But now you're looking at me tapping your foot impatiently saying: "Yeah, but what the hell is this book about?" I could give you the plot summary lowdown -- about bare-knuckle fighting in the backwoods of Southern Indiana, about desperate family man Jarhead Johnny Earl who's going to steal a thousand dollars to cover the entry fee into the infamous annual Donnybrook tournament.
Then there's meth-making brother and sister Angus (nickname Chainsaw) and Liz who put the F.U.N. in family dysfunction. They've just lost their last batch of dope and are determined to recoup their losses, no matter who gets in their way, even if it means each other. Like any great rural crime story, you've got the steely, determined deputy Sheriff following a trail of dead bodies into a trap he has no idea lays in wait for him. Last but not least, there's Chinese "collection agent" Fu, who's about as badass a dude as you're ever going to meet. He is awesome.
This mad, manic mélange of murderers, misfits and miscreants will eventually descend upon the Donnybrook -- a three day stint of brawling, booze and drugs run by a man named McGill, who makes the Governor from the Walking Dead comics look like Mr. Rogers. But it's not about the final destination folks, but the journey to get there, and (to quote one of my favorite movie taglines ever): who will survive and what will be left of them. Reading this book I couldn't help but be reminded of the lucid insanity of some of Tarantino's best work -- the ensemble characters, the multiple plot threads, and how it all comes crashing together in the end with defined, divine purpose. Hells yeah, people. This is the good shit. Heisenberg grade blue.
Frank Bill is a writer you want to watch. You can find out more about him at his blog House of Grit or follow him on Twitter @HouseofGrit. And as my mama always told me -- never trust a man with two first names.
I don't know what went wrong with this book. I liked it. It was okay, but I expected so much more after reading such blurbs as:
The number one horror
...moreI don't know what went wrong with this book. I liked it. It was okay, but I expected so much more after reading such blurbs as:
The number one horror novel of all time!--The Guardian (London)
If you are easily upset...stop right here.--The New York Times
Not one to usually be influenced by such things, I couldn't help myself when even Paul Newman went out of his way to blurb this book: "I'm something of an insomniac. I read The Watcher and stopped sleeping altogether". How could I resist such an endorsement as that?
I think the biggest problem I have with this book is that it's miscategorized as horror, when really it's a psychological thriller/crime/mystery ... maybe with supernatural overtones (something that's never made explicitly clear one way or the other). I was expecting to be disturbed, creeped out, unsettled, but I didn't experience any of that. Rather I spent my time reading trying to figure out what the hell is really going on here. Is he crazy, or isn't he? Is what he's seeing real, or a product of an over-taxed, diseased mind?
Rightly or wrongly, this book is considered a "horror classic". Originally published in 1982, Penguin Books re-released it this year with a brand new eye-catching (pardon the pun) cover:
I can tolerate some ambiguity. I don't need to have everything explained or all loose ends tied up neatly into a bow. But too much uncertainty drives me crazy, especially when nothing is really resolved and pretty much the novel's entire set-up is left shadowed in doubt. You turn the last page hoping for some resolution, but are left only with more questions.
There is a decent atmosphere here. The set-up is contagious. I needed to know how it was all going to end. The only trouble is by the time I got to the end I was left feeling meh and really, that's it? But we still don't know. I pretty much had the same reaction when I finished reading Threats by Amelia Gray. If you're going to get me all worked up like that with lots of foreplay, don't leave me hanging goddammit. I hate that.
Anyway, all of that to say I really wish I'd liked this one more. (less)
I have a book shelf named "what the bleep" for books that unexpectedly shock my delicate sensibilities, blow my mind, and/or turn it into a pretzel. S...more I have a book shelf named "what the bleep" for books that unexpectedly shock my delicate sensibilities, blow my mind, and/or turn it into a pretzel. Sometimes the "what the bleep" is shouted in disgust or disappointment (as in -- this book sucks and the weirdness cannot save it). Other times, I shout it with glee for books that break my brain or tickle it so deliciously I can't help rubbing my hands together and cackling like a villain ripped from the pages of a Marvel comic.
I am delighted to report that '14' by Peter Clines is of the latter variety. It truly is a Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. I think what I loved most about this book is that it doesn't play by any fucking rule book whatsoever. It's horror, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery and episodes of Friends mixed with Scooby-Doo and the movie Singles all rolled up into one. It should be a bloody, confused mess, but IT ISN'T. Once it really gets going, it shimmies and jives like John Travolta boogying his way through Saturday Night Fever, with pizzazz and fervor and purpose. And a HUGE side helping of crazy pants.
And it TAKES ITS TIME. Oh, how I love it when a writer can give me some literary foreplay I can work with. Clines lays on the mystery quite thick in the early stages. There's something going on, with lots of hints and just enough reveals to keep us interested and reading on with bated breath. But for a long, long, time Clines keeps the mystery unsolved. The stakes get higher and higher. And the reveal -- while a creaky house of cards and not built of perfection -- is supremely shocking and satisfying. At least it was for me.
This book is a celebration of weird and wacky, finding the fun and the supremely creepy all in one place. Clines borrows from a lot of different sources including Lovecraft, House of Leaves, and John Dies at the End, and cooks it all up in an unforgettable stew of unique flavors and textures. He's a guy to watch. Read this book. (less)
The very short and dirty review for this collection could be -- when it is good it is very, very good. But when it is bad it is horrid.
I did not love...more The very short and dirty review for this collection could be -- when it is good it is very, very good. But when it is bad it is horrid.
I did not love all these stories equally. In fact, several verged on epic fail for me. Which is not hard to do. I am probably the worst reader of short stories. However, those that did work sent me into such shuddering, paroxysms of delight there are no words to express my infinite admiration. My favorites worked so exquisitely on a sub-atomic, cellular level that I immediately wanted to catch a red eye to Vegas and marry them no questions asked, no pre-nup, with Elvis Presley looking on curling his lip in approval. Thank you, thank you very much. My five stars is the only way I can think of to reflect that boundless joy. Is it for every story? Absolutely not. But I have no problem letting those five stars stand.
My first introduction to Kij Johnson was in June 2011 when I read her short story Ponies. It tickled something very profound in my imagination and gave a real goose to my pleasure center (at least the part of my brain that perpetually craves dark and disturbed). Funny thing is, I picked up this collection based solely on the cover and title. I didn't even notice that the author is the very same author who had impressed me with her little diddy about prepubescent girls and their pet ponies. When I finally put the two together in an "a-ha, duh" moment, saying I was pleased would be quite an understatement.
Kij Johnson is a bit of a mad scientist in her approach to storytelling. There is folklore, magical realism, science fiction, fantasy, fable, myth and legend. That sounds messy and confusing, and it should be. It should be a disastrous, alchemical experiment that blows the whole meth lab sky high. But somehow she makes it work, each story its own landscape playing by its own rules. She blends things in ways that made me think of how van Gogh saw sunflowers and starry nights. Even where I floundered, and did not appreciate the final destination, her prose ran like silk across the neurons of my brain, stroking them into a blissed out reader high.
Kij Johnson is on my radar. I will most definitely be keeping my eye out for more of her strange and wonderful words.
My two favorite stories of the collection are available online for free:
Ponies: If you haven't already, read this weird and deranged tale about youthful female rites of passage and the more brutal realities of fitting in. This is a macabre spin on the innocence lost theme delivered with cutting precision that slices deep.
26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss: This one made me laugh with its whimsy and weep with its melancholy. I don't even know how to describe everything it made me feel actually. Aimee becomes the proprietor of 26 monkeys and a series of circus acts. Her biggest trick is that she makes all the monkeys vanish onstage. Where do the monkeys go? She does not know. All Aimee knows is that they return to her a few hours later bearing little trinkets from wherever they have been. The ending? Perfection in eight little words.
Honorable mentions must go to:
Names for Water - a phone call from unknown origin that whispers like water. I don't know if everyone will love the resolution here, but it gave me goosebumps.
Fox Magic - an Asian-themed fable about love's blindness. A fox falls in love with a man and lures him away from his human life.
Dia Chjerman's Tale - short, almost purely science fiction tale with apocalyptic overtones. There is a vibe of dread here that I really grooved on.
At the Mouth of the River of Bees - I'm usually not one for magical realism (sometimes I'm not even sure if I'm applying the term correctly), but there's a real dreamy quality to this one that almost hypnotized me. A woman follows a literal river of bees to its mouth. What will be waiting for her when she finally gets there? I'm thinking pet owners (and dog lovers) will find this one especially poignant. (less)
I can dig weird. I can dig really weird and fucked up to boot. But it doesn't happen a lot. Weird usually only works for me if it's scary, head-trippy...more I can dig weird. I can dig really weird and fucked up to boot. But it doesn't happen a lot. Weird usually only works for me if it's scary, head-trippy, and ultimately satisfying. I experienced none of that with Gray's Threats. The prose feels heavy and overwrought -- pretentious even -- weird for the sake of being weird. What is this story even about? A grieving husband? Sort of. His delusions? His mental illness? Is the odd behavior of everyone around him really happening, or is it a part of his psychosis? Is he even psychotic?
(view spoiler)[What about his wife???? What about his goddamn wife? What am I supposed to do with that ending? Is she even dead? Did she write the notes? Was she crazy too? Why were other people seeing her (like Aileen?) Or were all these people a figment of David's imagination? (hide spoiler)]
I don't mind when writers keep me in the dark shadows and dusty corners of a book, maintaining an off-kilter sort of dreamlike experience for the reader, but as such they better have a plan, an ultimate point, a significant final destination that's going to scratch that maddening itch that's tormented me for the duration. This doesn't mean I expect all loose ends tied up in a neat little bow. I'm okay with a little ambiguity, but for chrissake, give me something to hang my hat on, or what's the point of going on this journey in the first place?
Ironically, this story really drew me in at first. The imagery, the cloying atmosphere, it all felt portent of something big. Instead, it quickly descends into a lot of sloppy foreplay that ultimately goes nowhere. My excitement level did not peak, and there was no big "O" moment.
Here is where I will say I am simply not the book's intended audience. If you like your narrative fiction more on the experimental side, that deals in a lot of dreamlike, metaphorical language, you could really dig it. It's possible. Not this gal though. This gal feels ripped off. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Wow! What a darkly disturbing yet strangely delightful romp of a book. Last Days is a marvelous mash-up of hard-boiled detective noir, literary myster...moreWow! What a darkly disturbing yet strangely delightful romp of a book. Last Days is a marvelous mash-up of hard-boiled detective noir, literary mystery and straight-up horror that never comes across as messy or confused. Evenson's prose is sooooo tight; not a single word is wasted, the narrative action propelled along at a break-neck pace, every other chapter ending on a nail-biting cliffhanger, the dialogue smart, snappy, and at times very funny. I blew through its 200 pages in no time at all, and I bet you will too.
It's easy to draw parallels to the noir greats here, but since I just finished reading several Cain novels I will repeat what I wrote in my review for Double Indemnity because it applies just as well here:
It all starts with a delicious chill up your spine, your eyeballs riveted to the page, your breath held, the "gotta know what happens next" monster rattling the bars of his cage....[Cain's] ear for dialogue is enough to make grown men cry and women purr. It's sharp, with staccato beats and primal rhythms.
In his wonderful introduction [which you read after or you will be entirely spoiled], Peter Straub compares Evenson’s snappy dialogue to not only the Marx Brothers and the “patter of 1930s” vaudeville and burlesque, but to comedic teams like Abbott and Costello and their “Who’s on first” routine. Even with all of the dreadful mutilations and creepy fanaticism running through the story, there are unexpected moments of brilliant levity which made me grin and snicker. As I found myself grinning and snickering, I was reminded of The Pilo Family Circus, another great piece of writing not to be missed that's a genius blend of genres containing the blackest of humor.
But now a short word on the dark heart of Last Days, because in some respects what we have here is a non-supernatural horror novel. At times, the story flirts dangerously close to parody: it's so over the top in places that you can't help but wonder if Evenson is just pulling your leg. No he's not. If you're not careful, he just might cut it right the fuck off. There's something so unbelievably creepy and sinister to me about the lopping off of body parts (either against one's will or voluntarily). Several films that come to mind are: Boxing Helena (dreadful!) and the Asian flick Audition (chilling!). And who could ever forget poor old Lawrence being forced to hack through his own foot in the original Saw movie? (bloody brilliant!):
"He doesn't want us to cut through our chains. He wants us to cut through our feet!"
Evenson takes the essence of this celluloid horror and transforms it into something grittier and more nuanced. There’s a depth to Kline’s descent into a dizzying maze of mysteries. We are as in the dark as he is, as frustrated and frightened. Something sinister is afoot (no pun intended), and madness lurks around every corner.
Finally, I want to give a shout out to Maciek and his spectacular review without which I never would have picked up this book, and that would have been my great loss. (less)
Solid collection of unsettling and weird (with a capital W) short stories. First, I want to put a plug in for Crowinator's review here. It was her rev...more Solid collection of unsettling and weird (with a capital W) short stories. First, I want to put a plug in for Crowinator's review here. It was her review that brought the book to my attention and made me want to read it. I also love how she breaks down all the stories and gives you a chance to figure out if this collection is for you or not. And hey, the best part? If you feel like taking a chance, the ebook is on sale right now for 0.99 cents. That is some serious bang for your buck. What have you got to lose?
Love the title and the cover. These things should never be underestimated. Each on their own has the power to persuade readers to read. I find the big publishing houses are getting lazy of late, or they've stopped caring, or they've sacrificed their creative marketing departments to save on the bottom line; whatever the reason, most of their covers suck or at the very least are uninspired. But the smaller, independent presses? They know they are fighting for their lives and our attention and dollars. Proof is in the covers, and in their willingness to approve some pretty audacious titles. Evidence please? Book covers are clickable.
I don't even need to know what these books are about to want to read them. But maybe that's just the magpie in me.
J.R. Hamantaschen has great titles that almost tell a story in and of themselves. He's also got the patter of Weird down without being overtly obnoxious about it, or coming across as trying too hard. Yet these stories feel modern and young, so much so that some of the awkward word choices just felt right anyway in spite of themselves. Like any small press/independent work, it is rough in places and could do with some editorial spit and polishing, but overall it reads very clean.
The author has a unique and distinctive voice that excels in creating unsettling and/or haunting images. Crowinator refers to the writing as "cryptic and suggestive" and I agree. The stories are more about allowing the reader to think the worst, providing our imagination an opportunity to flex its muscles.
More than titles or prose, what really made these stories hum for me were the ideas behind them. A good story idea that hasn't been regurgitated a thousand times in a thousand different ways is hard to come by. Hamantaschen must have a tree growing in his back yard where he can go pick one off it any time he chooses. My favorites:
Endemic: a nasty little story about rape and misogyny and the creation of a device to ensnare men in the act. Mixing sci-fi elements with that twist of horror and Weird, this story becomes the next evolution of To Catch a Predator.
A Parasite Inside Your Brain: I loved this one just because the idea of something crawling inside my head and laying eggs there creeps me out more than any other concept. This is a nice riff on the classic Night Gallery episode, but with a very different outcome. In a more serious way I find its dealing with depression and perhaps questioning whether your doctor always knows best a refreshing angle.
Come In, Distraction: I can't put my finger on what I enjoyed so much about this one, and I can't really talk too much about it without ruining the surprise. I guess I loved the slow creep as it builds to its reveal. This English wanker -- is he exploiting, or is he being exploited in turn? I would say both really. The subtleties work here extremely well, but I longed to know more...(view spoiler)[the outbreak in England sounds so far out and monstrous, I could barely get my head around it, those loooooong arms (shudder). Here's where your imagination has to flex its muscles. (hide spoiler)].
Sorrow Has Its Natural End: this one worked for me only because it tapped into my other primal fear, which is going blind. I have bad eyesight as it is and have worn glasses since childhood. I am remiss in my checkups and have floaters that could indicate a high risk of retinal detachment (wow, I just made myself sound really sexy there, didn't I?) This story is about a guy whose retinas detach in both eyes making him nearly blind. But he has a lead on a cure.
Jordan, When Are You Going to Settle Down, Get Married and Have Us Some Children?: okay, I have to include this one because the idea is so extreme, outrageous and funny in a dark and horrible way. There's a Seinfeld episode where George is out on a date with a woman in her apartment and finds himself really needing to go number 2. But her little bathroom, with no buffer zone, is not going to give him the privacy he knows he will need. This story is that situation except with unimaginable results.
There Must Be Lights Burning Brighter, Somewhere: great title, the longest story in the collection, and my favorite. The set-up is three desperate, frightened people hiding out in a closet from some unnamed threat. As the story progresses it is revealed how they ended up in the closet, what they're hiding from, and how they escape. Survival will come at a high price. This one gave me the heebie-jeebies.
This review can also be found at Busty Book Bimbo. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
These two short novellas are quite disturbed (and disturbing in turn). It is writing that you can either despise or admire, but you absolutely cannot...more These two short novellas are quite disturbed (and disturbing in turn). It is writing that you can either despise or admire, but you absolutely cannot ignore or remain unmoved.
My first introduction to Pablo D'Stair was with his collection of four novellas entitled: they say the owl was a baker's daughter (an outstanding piece of work which amply earned all five of my stars). The novellas appearing in baker's daughter are psychologically driven, representing a searing examination of human paranoia and anxiety. I loved them all.
"The Unburied Man" and "The People Who Use Room Five" however -- great titles by the way -- are much harder to love. These are tales of body horror, physical grotesquerie, and metamorphoses. Upon finishing, I am convinced D'Stair is not only scatologically obsessed, but could conceivably be David Cronenberg's long lost love child. If you are only familiar with Cronenberg's later Oscar nominated films such as A History of Violence and Eastern Promises then you are missing out. Cronenberg is the crowned godfather of Canadian horror. His lasting influence and contribution to the genre overall cannot be overestimated. Love him or hate him, you cannot ignore him (sound familiar?) If you've seen any of the following -- The Brood (1979), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986) and Naked Lunch (1991) then you will understand where I'm coming from when I make comparisons between he and D'Stair.
While you could easily fling the adjectives sick, gross, unnecessary, self-indulgent meandering at both of these stories (and they would all stick), I also found the writing inexplicably compelling and engrossing. There is raw talent here that is undeniable. D'Stair creates atmosphere thick and unsettling, so much so that as a reader you never know what to expect understanding fully that you are in completely unfamiliar territory. There are no identifiable landmarks. This is unbroken, heretofore untrodden terrain. I will leave it up to you to decide whether or not the author should have left it as such.
Who the hell is Pablo D'Stair? What kind of a mad maniac is he anyway? Jesus wept. The four novellas brought together in this collection represent som...more Who the hell is Pablo D'Stair? What kind of a mad maniac is he anyway? Jesus wept. The four novellas brought together in this collection represent some pretty messed up shit, but the writing (as unpolished as it can be at times) represents the REALDEAL people. There is a palpable energy to the prose and a paranoia that drips over everything that cuts so deep like acid it will unsettle you in ways I can't even begin to describe.
First of all, I think it is important to establish whether this collection is for you (because I will be the first to admit it certainly isn't for everyone).
1) If you require prose that has been put through the editorial rock polisher to produce a perfectly smooth reading experience, then this collection might be hard for you to swallow. There are misspelled words, missing words, made up words and the like, that sporadically pop up. As for myself, this kind of thing usually jars me, taking me out of the story. What can I say? It works here. Whether intentional on the author's part or not, D'Stair's narrators use a stream-of-consciousness style and the "broken" words and sentences perfectly capture minds on the cusp of breaking. You could just see it as sloppy and one of the drawbacks of ill-edited self-published fiction. I think in this case you would be missing the point though.
2) If you derive much of your reading enjoyment from having all your questions answered, than this may not be the collection for you. Each novella deals with a narrator who has become "unhinged" shall we say, causing said narrator to act out in very real and unpredictable ways. We don't know why, they don't know why. There is no rumination on the dark heart of man or any such thing. Shit happens and then it's done. There is none of that satisfying resolution that comes with the linear progression from unexpected chaos to the reestablishment of order. All four endings will leave you with more questions than answers, that I can promise.
3) If graphic descriptions of bodily functions like vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and excess saliva make you queasy than this book is probably not for you. You have been warned.
Okay, if you have made it this far into the review and you're still with me, what comes next is the best part. D'Stair plumbs the depths of human paranoia and anxiety, the overall result an exceptional effort that's as unshakable and easily as memorable as Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. I'm not shitting you.
These are stories about following and being followed -- about fear of discovery and the siren song of confession. I think Megan hits it perfectly when she writes: "I could see these characters come to life, to the point of waking up at 3 am and thinking one of them might be shuffling around in my bedroom closet." These stories are so steeped in paranoia, that your brain will succumb to the itchy fingers of paranoia as a result. You will be like Michael Douglas' character in The Game, where everyone around you is suspect and a possible threat.
I'm also going to throw out two other cinematic gems that these novellas caused me to think about: Memento and Jacob's Ladder. The former because of the stream-of-consciousness narration by an untrustworthy and possibly delusional narrator; the latter because of the sensation of absolute mindfuck (pardon my French).
Okay, I'm beginning to feel paranoid that this review has gone on too long. One more thing before I wrap this up though; I would never have even known of this book's existence if it weren't for Jacob first bringing it to my attention. When Jacob gives anything five stars I perk up and pay attention. When he said he needed to "gather his brain chunks back together" before he could write a review, reading this was a foregone conclusion (though he tried to warn me!)
Eyes adjusting to the dark, I looked at the closed door to the room, half expecting the knob to jiggle, for there to be some pock-marked face behind the opening, a face as large as a train station clock...
...thought about my hand to the peephole of thirteen, someone's eye to the other side of the hole, only a door thick of wood separating their blinking lash from my sweating palm.
...it seemed if I could stay awake I could bear it, but if forced to wake to it I'd disintegrate utterly, whatever crumb of me was left moistened, pulped, mawed and gone.
Okay, let me be up-front about this ...no bullshitting ... Endurance is some sick and twisted shit. Some of the sickest and twisted-est shit I've read...moreOkay, let me be up-front about this ...no bullshitting ... Endurance is some sick and twisted shit. Some of the sickest and twisted-est shit I've read in a very long time. BUT ... and this is an important "but" folks ... Endurance is also solidly written, sublimely creepy in parts, with characters you can root for and other characters you can hate. And that's what saves this novel from the unsavory pit of mere torture porn.
In a recent documentary, Stephen King makes a very interesting point about graphic violence and horror. This is how he distinguishes 'torture porn': there are times when we are reading/watching to see the monster killed, and there are other times when we are reading/watching to see the monster kill. It may seem like a nebulous distinction, but I think he hit the nail right on the head. That's why the latter makes us feel so dirty; King refers to it as "morally queasy".
In most horror, we want the monster to be slain, we want the good guys to prevail. Bad shit can happen along the way, but the monster should not become the hero. We root for the victims, we do not root for the sick motherfucker and the pain and carnage he/she/it is inflicting. That's the difference between the first movie in a franchise, and the last movie in a franchise; in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy is the monster and we want him stopped. By number 5, we're there to see what kind of sick shenanigans he can come up with next, knowing full well that the victims are now fodder to support his starring role. Suddenly, he's the guy we're cheering for (well, sort of, but I hope my point is clear).
Don't get me wrong, I'm just as guilty as the next person. I've watched all the SAW movies as each has degenerated more and more into gratuitous violence. But none of them will ever be as satisfying as the original, when I really, really wanted those two guys to survive and slay the monster (before Jigsaw started getting top billing and the best trailer).
More to the point (and I've said this many times before), I don't scare if I don't care. Give me characters I can care about and suddenly I start fretting for their well-being and safety. I don't want to see them hurt (no matter how imaginatively), I don't want them to die. I want them to survive and for the monster to be slain.
Endurance has a surprisingly large cast of characters for this type of story, and I actually liked them all. I wanted them all to survive and I definitely wanted these freakazoid, in-bred monsters tormenting them to be stopped. There is nothing original here (it’s got Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wrong Turn all over it, not to mention an unforgettable X-Files episode called “Home”), but Kilborn still manages to give it a nice, ruthless twist of his own. The devil is in the details, yes?